Seed Saving Primer : Part One : Seed Biology 101

For those of us who pour over seed catalogs come January, this is for you!

In full disclosure, I need to confess something… I am a HEIRLOOM SEED FREAK!!!  Seriously… no lie, it is sort of an obsession.  I love their names: Di Cicco Broccoli, Minnesota Midget Melon, Tom Thumb Popcorn, French Breakfast Radish

Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom Seeds
[image source: http://green-mom.com%5D
(Have you ever had a radish for breakfast? Me either; I’ll have to give that a try…), Rouge Vif d’Etampes Pumpkin and Black Krim Tomatoes.  Seed saving is slowly being revived.  I doubt I will ever completely stop buying seeds as there are just so many that I wish to try, but saving seeds has its own appeal.

I enjoy breeding poultry and have recently taken it upon myself to start breeding vegetable seeds.  I would love to chat more about this topic, but alas, I must wait and start at the very beginning.  It is a very good place to start… (Sorry, I digress, feelin’ a bit punchy this morning).

Heirloom Vegetables
Heirloom Vegetables
[image source: ssmhortsociety.com]
Seed Reproduction Methods

There are three types of seed reproduction methods: Genetically Modified Seeds, Hybrid Seeds and Heirloom Seeds.  I would never recommend the first.  GMO seeds are patented.  You cannot save the seeds without being subject to theft of intellectual property.  And if you believe that you can get away with it, allow me to suggest that you shouldn’t take the risk.  Companies such as Monsanto have spies that look like a swat team which infiltrate local farms and pay off your neighbors to turn you in.  If you are found with their seeds, which have been saved, they will come after you civilly and possibly criminally.  There are many other reasons as to why I would not ever use GMO seeds, but that is another topic.  Hybrid seeds are seeds which are a cross between two varieties of vegetables, fruit, herbs, grain or flowers.  If you save the seeds from a Hybrid, it will not breed true, or in other words, it will not look, taste or perform the same as the parent plant.  I wouldn’t suggest saving these seeds either.  You just will not know what you will get, when you will get it, how much you will get or if it will just die off before it gives you anything.  That leaves us with Heirloom seeds, or open pollinated seeds.  Heirloom seeds are seeds which are typically an old variety of seed which breeds true.  This means that the seed will produce vegetables precisely like their parent plant.  Heirloom seeds are what you are looking for in saving seeds.

Seed Anatomy

What are seeds, really?  “A seed is an embryonic plant enclosed in a protective outer covering known as the seed coat. It is a characteristic of spermatophytes and the product of the ripened ovule which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant. The formation of the seed completes the process of reproduction in seed plants, with the embryo developed from the zygote and the seed coat from the integuments of the ovule.” says en.wikipedia.org.  To put it more plainly, a seed is a flowering plant’s item of reproduction. A seed contains all the genetic information necessary to produce a flowering plant along, a protective coating  and a source of energy necessary to get going.

Anatomy of a Seed [image source: greatneck.k12.ny.us]
Anatomy of a Seed
[image source: greatneck.k12.ny.us]
A seed is made up of:

  • Testa: A hard and tough outer coating which protects the seeds from fungi, bacteria, insects and even animals and humans.
  • Hilum: Is a scar left behind by the stalk or stem.
  • Micropyle: Is an ity-bity-tiny pore in the outer coating or testa.
  • Radicle: Is the embryonic root which grows and develops the root system of the plant.
  • Plumule: Is the embryonic shoot which grows and develops into the plant
  • Cotyedons: Are the grasses or narrow-leaved growths which come from the shoot.

Do not worry too much over these official sounding names. Rather, it is more important that you can see and possibly identify and describe a seed’s various parts so you know if something is going wrong or everything is going right.

13 thoughts on “Seed Saving Primer : Part One : Seed Biology 101

  1. Thanks for your great post. I love your hard line on GMO seeds, I agree with you 100%, as a farmer and gardener it is such an important message to spread. I think the long term problems of these crops and seeds are certainly ignored for a quick buck. Sad really.
    Hope you have a great day😄

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Beth

    Excited to read more. I once had a seed saving book and I have no idea where it went. I read it, then got discouraged (being a very novice gardener at the time) about how hard it was to save seeds because of the distance needed between the plants. Didn’t know how in the world I was going to do that living in suburbia. But, I’ve revisited this idea in my head lately and was pleased to see your post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t be discouraged about seed saving, give it a try. Yes it is correct about some plants needing a fair amount of distance if you are going to collect seed as otherwise their might be the risk of cross-pollination and the production of a seed that is not true to type. Tomatoes are a good example of this. So my suggestion would be to just forget about seed saving for tomatoes if you do not have room, or possibly have a little fun and still do it then see what kind of cross you may come up with, you never know? lol However there are lots of other plants that you could start collecting seed from and not have the cross-pollination concern. Good seeds to start saving: herb seeds ( cilantro, dill…if you only have one type, basil etc), try letting some of your lettuce or spinach go to see, let some beans dry on the vine, peas….I think you got my point. The main thing is to try, and honestly if some do not come out true to original type, guess what? they may do well, or not…the thing is you will not poison yourself and maybe the yields or growth characteristics might be slightly different but keep notes and learn along the way. Most importantly…have fun!

      Liked by 2 people

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